Last weekend I flew to Jacksonville, Florida to celebrate my tia-abuela's 90th birthday. I took video on the laptop, but as an adult working in a school I find myself frustrated that I can't upload because youtube is a censored site at the school.
My tia abuela is amazing. She was born in 1917 near Mayaguez, Puerto Rico. She's the youngest of 10 children, mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. She's the last living sibling of my mother's father.
I never knew my grandfather, who my uncles told me was known as a tough in Puerto Rico. He was a boxer who loved his family, but apparently was no one to mess with. His name? Conrado Morales.
Conrado was known as "Doblefeo". If you know anything about latin nick-names they come from a place of truth and are given with affection. "Doblefeo" literally means "doubly-ugly", which probably means my grandfather had a mean mug on him. My uncles were calling me "doblebella". This nickname made me blush and begin a stream of humble denials.
This was the first time I heard people other than my mother speak of my grandfather. And it touched me to hear stories of this man who my uncles had great love for. He died at 45 years of age, but seemed to be loved and respected by his family.
Apparently he was rare among the family. Bilingual in a time where monolingualism was still prevalent on the island. Puerto Rico had been taken over by the United States from Spain less than 50 years before. My mother grew up with a dirt floor, had cows and chickens...and roads and electricity were making their way into the countryside of Puerto Rico.
My grandmother shared stories, poetry, and lead bombas and plenas all weekend. It's amazing to see the energy, the sensuality, and beauty of a woman who has lived on this planet so long, but there it was. To the sound of the hand drums - panderetas, she shimmied her shoulders and danced our bomba. And we family members joined her on the dance floor. Almost 150 people-- friends, family, 4 generations came to celebrate her life with music, food, and so much affection.
DJ, live band, and the impromptu music from my uncles' hand drumming, the rhythmic clapping of the crowd, and the dancing in circles, and in pairs felt more than a tribe or more than a celebration. We affirm life. We affirm that older age is not a time of loneliness, uselessness, and obselsence, as is often touted in this country.
We age, we dance, we share with our family.
THAT is what this past weekend showed me.
I was touched.
And I came back sad because it's hard to explain that to some of my friends who don't have these relationships with their families. I came back feeling like part of myself will always be absent without my family. It's profound to feel so significantly part of a whole that when you are apart from it part of you is missing.